Minnesota's clean energy industry continues to surge.
A report released Sept. 7 by Clean Energy Economy Minnesotafound clean energy jobs grew nearly four times faster than overall state job growth since last year — adding 2,893 jobs to the economy.
Thirty percent of the state's roughly 57,000 clean energy jobs are found in greater Minnesota, the report found. Roughly 5,800 of those jobs are located in Minnesota's 1st congressional district, which covers Rochester and Southeast Minnesota.
Curt Shellum, owner of Solar Connection, a Rochester solar installer, spoke with the Post Bulletin on Friday about Southeast Minnesota's clean energy industry growth.
What changes have you seen in southeast Minnesota's clean energy industry during the last year?
It's kind of a gradual process where there's just more and more awareness. We noticed that people that come to us expressing an interest in solar, whether they'd be a farm, or business or home, know a little bit more. They're just more aware of it, and more aware of the technology. That's a good thing. In the last few years, we've definitely seen a growth in the number of companies that are installing clean energy and solar.
What about your company? What have you seen as clean energy jobs have come more to the forefront in Minnesota?
We have grown each year. I would say that, probably by an average of 30 percent, 20 to 30 percent more projects each year. Staff hasn't quite grown at that same rate, but we have about 14 people now. We are a contractor, so as we install more, the people downstream and other related professions also add jobs.
You were talking about how you've done more development during the last year. How is the demand for clean energy in southeast Minnesota right now?
It's been gradual for us anyway, in our experience. A few more calls, a few more inquiries, a few more installations. When I say a few more, it's 20 to 30 percent, but not like double, triple, quadruple each year. But it's been good, it's been a steady increase in number of people … choosing to install solar. It's kind of a combination of reasons: more awareness and also prices have dropped. So as solar has grown, prices have come down, and it makes it more affordable, better payback each year.
Where do you see the demand for clean energy in Minnesota in 10 years?
I think it will just continue to grow at this rate, or even greater, as long as we can find policies that work for everyone. We have to find ways where it's a win-win for the utilities and for customers of the utilities so they can continue to add solar and also works well for the utilities.
In terms of the quality of the product, solar is a very simple, rugged, robust technology that lasts a long time.
If you drive down the street, you see a lot of prime, open, south-facing roofs without solar. And I really suspect that you'll see … a lot more of those homes and businesses choosing to produce their own energy. There's an estimate that almost half the energy in the United States could be provided by just simply rooftop solar. There's plenty of room for growth.
If the industry keeps growing as it is, how much of a boost do you think it can give to the state's overall economy in terms of jobs?
Right now, it's like 57,000 jobs supposedly in Minnesota. In the United States, solar is almost doubling each year. I don't know if Minnesota is or not, but if we're on the same trend … I anticipate that this 50,000 will soon be, 70, 80, 100 (thousand jobs). It's likely to continue to grow. Maybe not at the same rate, I'm not sure, but it will grow.